Improving Cross-Cultural Communication at Work

overcoming cross-cultural communication confusion

Globally, approximately 16 percent of companies are 100 percent remote. Many of these companies also hire employees from all over the world and have no limits when it comes to where their employees work. Therefore, you need to understand some common challenges with cross-cultural communication and how to overcome them.

Switching to a 100 percent remote model and working with people from across the globe comes with a lot of benefits. It provides different perspectives, unique approaches to problem-solving, and more opportunities for employees to broaden their horizons and learn from people they never would have met otherwise.

There are some potential downsides to this model, though, especially when it comes to cross-cultural communication.

Read on to learn more about the challenges associated with cross-cultural communication, as well as how you can work toward improving team communication regardless of where your colleagues are from.

Common Cross-Cultural Communication Challenges

What are the most common cross-cultural communication challenges remote team leaders face? Let's take a look at some frequently reported issues that multicultural teams need to overcome to be more productive and successful:

Direct vs. indirect communication

This is a common issue that workers run into when they start teaming up with people from other countries and cultures.

In some cultures, particularly Western cultures, direct communication is highly valued and is considered "the norm". In other parts of the world, though, indirect communication is more common. Which could lead to some cross-cultural communication mishaps if you, as a team leader, are not specific in what you expect from your team as they communicate.

Without considering these differences; team members from one culture could end up feeling disrespected or attacked by another's blunt and direct manner. On the other hand, an employee may even feel frustrated by someone speaking to them in an indirect, "wishy-washy" way.

Issues with accents and language fluency

Perhaps everyone on your team speaks English, but there might still be significant differences when it comes to people’s accents, grammar and fluency, or their ability to understand different circumstances and settings.

For example, perhaps an employee can read and write English well, but they might struggle when talking with someone on the phone or via video chat.

Issues with accents and language fluency can create problems when it comes to receiving information, following instructions, or getting projects done on time.

Attitudes toward productivity and work ethic

Terms like “productivity” and “good work ethic” mean different things in different parts of the world. Not to mention that various cultures view things differently, like deadlines, breaks, and time-off – which can lead to communication issues for multicultural teams.

For example, in many parts of Europe, it’s not uncommon for workers to take month-long vacations during the summer. In the U.S., though, the idea of taking that much time off of work is completely foreign.

Differences in work hours and response times

When people are working all over the world, it can be hard to synchronize work hours and keep track of when everyone is and isn’t available.

Differences in work hours can lead to delays in response times and can make it harder for team members to communicate with one another. Even getting answers to simple questions can feel like pulling teeth when everyone’s time zones aren’t taken into account.

As a remote team leader, you need to be aware of the different time zones and think about the benefits of asynchronous communication in your team.

Improving Cross-Cultural Communication at Work

Every multicultural team will run into some communication roadblocks, especially when they first come together to work on a new project. The good news, though, is that there are lots of steps teams and team leaders can take to minimize these issues, including the following:

Develop cultural awareness

The more team members and team leaders know about different cultures, the easier it is for them to understand where their colleagues and employees are coming from.

Learning how different people perceive things like deadlines; and understanding variations in communication style, can help everyone get on the same page. This allows for more respect when addressing problems and collaborating on projects.

Greater cultural awareness creates new opportunities to partner with customers and clients from all over the world, too.

Demand mutual acceptance

Team leaders and managers need to create a policy of mutual acceptance early on. It should be made clear that everyone must have a sense of acceptance and respect for their team members from different cultures — no if's, and's, or but's. Set your communication expectations from the beginning.

By setting this standard (and leading by example), team leaders can prevent a lot of conflicts and ensure everyone is working in a supportive environment, no matter where they’re based.

Keep communication simple

Because everyone’s fluency and ability to understand English will likely be different when you’re working with a multicultural team, native speakers (leaders and team members alike) need to keep their communications as simple as possible.

This doesn’t mean “dumbing things down” or speaking condescendingly to others. However, it may mean that you keep sentences short – avoiding jargon or idioms that aren't well known to people from other cultures.

Be flexible

Flexibility is already one of the most highly valued benefits that workers are looking for in 2021, so it should already be at the top of every team leader’s mind. When it comes to cross-cultural communication, it’s particularly important to be willing to adjust and change the way you look at things to make room for other points of view.

Seek support

Finally, team leaders and managers should be willing to seek support and bring in outside help as needed.

Do you need to invest in high-quality translation tools, for example, so that other workers feel comfortable speaking in their native language instead of always using English?

Do you need to take a course or read a book on what it’s like to work in another country so you can have a better understanding of certain employees’ needs and perspectives?

Improve Cross-Cultural Communication Today

Remote work and cross-cultural communication present a lot of challenges for team leaders and employees alike. At the same time, though, the benefits of working with team members from all over the world can often outweigh the initial inconveniences and difficulties.

Keep the tips listed above in mind so you can overcome the hurdles of cross-cultural communication and set yourself and your team up for long-term success. Try a team communication software to help your team collaborate effectively no matter where they are!